Tuesday, July 10, 2007
A recent hearing committee report in a Louisiana bar discipline matter tells a tale of the dangers of personal involvement with a client, particularly in the context of a domestic relations representation. The lawyer was retained by a divorcing wife. There was conflicting testimony about who pressed for an intimate relationship. In any event, the relationship began when the lawyer and client celebrated the successful resolution of the case. They traveled to Florida and stayed together, but the client trusted her babysitter with the information. The babysitter told the husband. After the next hearing, the husband's lawyer (who is named Rodney Rabalais) confronted the attorney. The husband entered the wife's home, obtained proof of the Florida trip and disclosed the information to the attorney's spouse. The attorney ended the intimate relationship, suggested new counsel and withdrew from the case. Her new attorney is Angelo Piazza (Louisiana must lead the country in lawyers with interesting names).
The attorney learned that the husband intended to file a disciplinary complaint and self-reported the matter to disciplinary counsel. Charges of conflict of interest were filed. The hearing committee was quite sympathetic to the lawyer, finding that his testimony was "stirring", that he was remorseful, that his conduct had done lasting damage to his 32 year marriage and impacted on his two sons, both of whom intend to be lawyers. The hearing committee did not think so highly of the former client, who has filed a civil claim against the lawyer. They recommend a three month deferred suspension with two years probation, ethics school and payment of costs. (Mike Frisch)